Working with Local Drivers

If you are a traveler or an expatriate who chooses to use a local driver instead of self-driving (see our separate discussion on deciding whether to self-drive or use a driver and the pros and cons of each) then we’ll look at working with local drivers.

When ever possible get a vetted local driver.  Sources for drivers can include security companies, transportation companies and hotels.  When possible its best to have a driver who has had formal security driver training although this is relatively rare in most countries in the developing world and should not be expected.

You should look for a driver with some type of general driver training for proficiency and safety purposes.  The bar is very low in many countries to obtain a driver’s license.  In almost all locations your greatest risk will be getting into a vehicle accident and not being the victim of an attack so having a driver who understands and employs the fundamentals of safe driving will be a huge asset.  If you are an expatriate or long term visitor it may be worthwhile to invest in the driver by getting him some training.

Get a driver who speaks at least decent English unless you are proficient in the local language.  This will help avert much confusion, missed pick-ups, etc. that can be caused by the language barrier.

If a long-term visitor or expatriate get to know as much about your driver as possible — where he lives, his family, his ethnic or tribal affiliation (where applicable).  You will be much less likely to have trouble with a driver who knows he is potentially vulnerable  to repercussions.

When working with local drivers here are some general guidelines to follow in most situations and in most locations:

– Make expectations clear to the driver at the beginning.  Much of working or living in the developing world is about managing expectations: yours and the driver’s.

– Use reverse planning and pad in extra time.  Concepts of time and punctuality are often not the same in much of the world.  Additionally in some cities traffic is so congested it is prudent to have the driver arrive early to ensure he is there when you need him.

– Don’t give the driver too much information in advance about your itinerary.  Let him know where you need to go and when at the time and not in advance.  There is no benefit  and significant vulnerability to you.  Even if you trust your driver and have worked with him for a while you don’t know what external pressures he might be under.  If someone is threatening his family to force him to provide information to target you then he’ll give you up.  By limiting his advanced knowledge of your movements you reduce this risk.

– Treat you driver with respect and take care of his welfare.  Be courteous to your driver and give him opportunities for breaks, enough rest between assignments, etc.  If you go out to eat at a restaurant consider sending a meal out to the driver if he is waiting in the vehicle outside.  I know of anecdotal cases in Latin America and the Philippines where people were set up for burglary, robbery and kidnapping by their drivers and other domestic employees.  There is no excuse for treating your driver badly and it arguably increases your vulnerability to do so.

– Remember the driver is not your friend.  As a follow up to the point above – take care of the driver and be courteous to him but don’t be too familiar.  Westerners – and Americans in particular tend to be very egalitarian which may not be the best approach. Avoid taking meals socializing with the driver.  In most traditional societies roles are very clearly defined.  Being to familiar with the driver may confuse him and undermine the working relationship that you have with him.  It may also result in a deterioration in his performance.

– Keep any gratuities reasonable and in keeping with local custom.  Its fine to reward a driver with a tip for good performance but in a poor country giving a driver a $50 or $100 tip for a few days work can be the equivalent of tipping him his monthly salary.  This can at a minimum (1) cause the driver to get confused and expect this level of tip from everyone (2) confirm how “rich” you are.  It may also cause problems with the driver’s employer if you are giving him the equivalent of a month’s salary for a tip.

When working with local drivers its important to keep these principles in mind — generally speaking they will make the relationship more productive and effective for both of you.


2 Responses to Working with Local Drivers

  1. Grady Emmons says:

    Good post here. I can second many of your tips bases on my own experiences. Good drivers/guides are very hard to find and even harder to trust. If you do manage to build a relationship with one, they are very worthwhile to maintain.

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